A Big Day For Me Tomorrow!

So, tomorrow is a big day for my veg outreach. Probably one of the biggest that I’ve had and I am really hoping that it goes well.

Tomorrow is Earth Day. The school where I work as a EAL teacher celebrates this every year. Some interested people organise activities that the children can participate in to raise awareness on environmental issues. Historically, there has been a vegetarian lunch provided by the school catering company and this year, I was asked to work with them to get a veg lunch happening this year.

For the past 3 weeks. I’ve been collecting recipes, getting them translated (thanks to the Indonesian teachers) and also trialling the recipes with the catering company. I have found two students who are recent vegetarians who are going to publicize the benefits of choosing veg in the dining halls.

I have tried my best to choose recipes that are made from whole foods whenever possible, from locally available ingredients (except choc chips) and are kid friendly. Here’s the menu and we have tested nearly every dish and the school catering company has done a fantastic job at creating the recipes. Just needed to cut down on the salt and sugar and work on the texture a bit, I mean, they are creating foods they never have before so huge kudos to them. I really hope that most people enjoy the food and that this can be a starter for dialogue on getting more vegetables in to the diets of our students, which I fear are sadly lacking when I look around the dining hall.

Then, after that, I will be showing Get Vegucated to about 30 grade 8 students. I’ve posted about Get Vegucated before. It really breaks down veganism and shows what it is all about in just 75 minutes. Afterwards, we have time for discussion and I hope they will write a blog post on their feelings about the film.

All of this alongside with my 30 Day Veg Challenge in February gives me lots of reason to feel hope. People are open, they do want to know and will make changes once they do.

Promoting Meatless Mondays in Your Workplace

One fantastic way piece of activism vegetarians or vegans can do is to initiate Meatless Mondays at their school, university or workplace. I wrote this sometime ago, and I wanted to put this out there so that other people might be able to use this document by adapting it to their context to send to their management, administrators, colleagues to get support for the idea.

I haven’t used proper referencing which is unfortunate. If you need me to check the source of a claim that I make, contact me. I’ll try to find out where I got it from. Apologies if the information is a bit out of date.

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Dear ……………………………………………..,

 

I am writing to you all today to let you know about a rather fantastic movement that is spreading around the world and being embraced by schools, government offices and private companies around the world. It’s called ‘Meatless Mondays’ and I would like to suggest that YOUR ESTABLISHMENT pledges to join many individualscities and schools in the world who go Meatless on Monday

 

By doing this, we would be helping our environment and show colleagues/students that it is possible for one person, or one community to make a sizable difference and a positive contribution to the world.

 

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned in becoming vegan is just how much damage livestock production is doing to our world. The issue is complex, so I will go through all the points, one by one. All the information that I present here is backed up by government bodies, UN research papers and credible sources. If you require more information on these, please do not hesitate to let me know. Most of my reading comes from US sources, but there is no reason to think that …………………. practices are any better than US ones.

 

Meatless Mondays was originally a strategy organised by the US government in WW1 to encourage people to reduce the consumption of certain staples to aid the war effort. In WW2 it was reintroduced to help feed the hungry European countries decimated by the war. It was a very successful project and meat consumption was drastically reduced over that time period.

 

After the wars of course, the campaign stopped, it started again in 2003 in the US to try to get people to lower their meat consumption for health reasons, and the the message was broadened again in 2009 to include the health and environmental benefits of moderating meat consumption.

 

To find out a bit more on what Meatless Mondays is about, please watch this rather inspiring video.

 

The explanation as to why eating animal products is so destructive to our planet is rather involved, but hopefully you’ll stick with me while I explain the different factors that are involved as they are all crucial.

 

The consumption of fish and seafood: Fish and seafood is either caught in the wild or it is farmed in aquaculture. In my mind, both, are incredibly environmentally destructive.

Technology has allowed man to become an incredible fisherman. We have radars, echo sounders and satellite GPS. These give us the ability to identify and return to fish hot spots. We can even use satellite images of ocean temperature to identify fish schools. This technology allows us to haul in fifty tons of sea animals in a few minutes. The impact of this, which comes from consumer demand, has led to a number of environmental catastrophes.

 

For every 10 tuna, shark, and other predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Many scientists predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fifty years.

 

In less developed countries, dynamite or arsenic fishing still happens regularly. This leads to incredible destruction of reefs and of all species in the area.

 

Bycatch is something that fish and seafood eaters rarely think about. Bycatch refers to sea creatures (and sometimes birds) caught by accident. This can happen in trawling operations as well as longline fishing practices. If you take  prawn trawling as an example, prawns are often very small so you need to use a very fine net. As prawns like to live at the bottom of the sea, the nets are trawled at the base of the ocean. Sadly, it is not just the prawns that are caught, but many other animals and plants. The average prawn trawling operation throws back 80-90 % of the sea animals it captures overboard dead or dying. As many of these animals come from such depths, they often explode. Prawns account for only 2 % of the global seafood by weight, but prawn trawling accounts for 33 % of global bycatch. Figures I do have for Thailand are that on average, for every 1 kg of fish or seafood that people eat, there is 14 kg of bycatch that is simply tossed back dead or dying.  This practice is destroying our underwater ecosystems. While longline fishing (for sharks, tuna and salmon) is less destructive than trawling, it is still damaging. 27 million hooks are deployed every day, but they do not just kill the target species, but 145 others as well. One study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed in longline fishing every year, including 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatrosses and 20,000 dolphins and whales.

 

Aquaculture: Aquaculture is seen by some as being less disruptive to the fragile underwater ecosystems, but sadly that is not the case. Aquaculture is the factory farming of sea animals. The resulting pollution that comes from these farms pollutes the surrounding area, and let’s not forget all the fish that need to be fed to these fish to make the food. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that the reason why the tsunami was so incredibly destructive was due to the destruction of the mangroves which otherwise may have absorbed some of the power of those waves. Sadly there are few mangroves left, replaced by tourism and property developments and shrimp farms.

 

Global Warming: Since we found out about rising temperatures on our planet, the biggest recommendation we have heard, is that we should use public transport, cut down on the amount of flights, turn down our air con and buy hybrid cars. However, something that has only recently been brought to global attention is that livestock production is the number 1 contributor to greenhouse gases. The Road and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative published in 2006 shows conclusively that across the world, farmed animals contribute more to climate change than transport. According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector – cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships – combined. Animal agriculture is responsible for 37 % of anthropogenic methane, which offers twenty-three times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and 65 % of anthropogenic nitrous oxide. The most current data even quantifies the role of diet : omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do.

 

An interesting short film that summarizes this in a very interesting and informative way was produced by ‘The Ethical Man’ who lived ethically for a year producing reports for BBC’s Newsnight 2 years ago. You can watch the film by clicking on this link and watching the video embedded in the article. 

 

Without a doubt, cutting down on our meat consumption would seriously reduce our carbon footprint without making much of an effort at all. It is certainly cheaper than buying a hybrid car and just as effective.

 

Pollution: The waste (feces) from livestock is  considerable and highly polluting. While I do not have any figures for Thailand, waste from pig farms is much stronger than human sewage, yet does not get disposed like it. The waste is usually pumped in to lagoons, but sadly they do not usually isolate the waste. The Environmental Protection Agency of the US indicate that chicken, pig and cattle excrement has already polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states. In 3 years, two hundred fish kills -incidents where the entire fish population in a given area is killed at once – have resulted in factory farms’ failures to keep excrement out of the rivers.

 

Inefficiencies of a meat eating diet: World livestock production exceeds 21 billion animals each year. The earth’s livestock population is more then three and a half times its human population.

 

In all, the raising of livestock takes up more than two-thirds of agricultural land, and one third of the total land area. This is apparently justifiable because by eating the foods that humans can’t digest and by processing these into meat, milk and eggs, farmed animals provide us with an extra, much-needed food source.  In fact, livestock are increasingly being fed with grains and cereals that could have been directly consumed by humans or were grown on land that could have been used to grow food rather than feed. The developing world’s undernourished millions are now in direct competition with the developed world’s livestock – and they are losing.


In 1900 just over 10% of the total grain grown worldwide was fed to animals; by 1950 this figure had risen to over 20%; by the late 1990s it stood at around 45%. Over 60% of US grain is fed to livestock.


This use of the world’s grain harvest would be acceptable in terms of world food production if it were not for the fact that meat and dairy production is a notoriously inefficient use of energy. All animals use the energy they get from food to move around, keep warm and perform their day to day bodily functions. This means that only a percentage of the energy that farmed animals obtain from plant foods is actually converted into meat or dairy products. Estimates of efficiency levels vary, but in a recent study, Professor Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, Canada, calculated that beef cattle raised on feedlots may convert as little as 2.5% of their gross feed energy into food for human consumption. Estimated conversion of protein was only a little more efficient, with less than 5% of the protein in feed being converted to edible animal protein. These figures are especially damning since the diet of cattle at the feedlot consists largely of human-edible grains.


Feedlot-raised beef is an extreme example, being the least feed-efficient animal product, but even the most efficient – milk – represents a waste of precious agricultural land. Prof Smil calculates that the most efficient dairy cows convert between 55 and 67% of their gross feed energy into milk food energy.


Efficiency can also be measured in terms of the land required per calorie of food obtained. When Gerbens-Leenes et al. examined land use for all food eaten in the Netherlands, they found that beef required the most land per kilogram and vegetables required the least. The figures they obtained can be easily converted to land required for one person’s energy needs for a year by multiplying 3000 kcal (a day’s energy) by 365 days to obtain annual calorie needs (1,095,000 kcal) and dividing this by the calories per kilogram. The figures obtained are summarised in table 1:

 

Food

Land per kg (m2)    

Calories per kilogram      

Land per person per year (m2)

Beef

20.9

2800

8173

Pork

8.9

3760

2592

Eggs

3.5

1600

2395

Milk

1.2

640

2053

Fruit

0.5

400

1369

Vegetables      

0.3

250

1314

Potatoes

0.2

800

274

 

 

On the basis of these figures, a vegan diet can meet calorie and protein needs from just 300 square metres using mainly potatoes. A more varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, grains and legumes would take about 700 square metres. Replacing a third of the calories in this diet with calories from milk and eggs would double the land requirements and a typical European omnivorous diet would require five times the amount of land required for a varied vegan diet.

A UN special envoy on food  called it a ‘crime against humanity’ to funnel 100 million tons of grain and corn to ethanol while almost 1 billion people are starving. So what kind of crime is animal agriculture, which uses 756 million tons of grain and corn per year, much more than enough to adequately food the 1.4 billion humans who are living in dire poverty? That also doesn’t include the 98 % of the 225 million-tons global soy crop is also fed to farmed animals. 

 

Conclusion:

 

The environmental impacts of eating meat are many, yet, it would be so easy for our …………………………….. to cut down their intake on meat and to make a meaningful contribution to prevent this type of environmental destruction that eating animals entails. Leading by example and educating our …………………. on why we choose to join many organisations in the world to go ‘Meatless on Mondays’ could carry over to other organisations, and their staff/students and we would be the first ……………………… …………… to go down this route. We have a wonderful opportunity to actually do something meaningful to lessen our impact on this world without spending much money or effort.